Aug 18, 2012
My first Eid, the holiday celebrating the end of Ramadan, began as a passenger lodged between an elderly gentleman to my left and a hard window on my right. I was smashed into the backseat of a minibus leaving Ethiopia, with a suggested number of 10 to 14 passengers. I twisted my body to accommodate the many suitcases and overstuffed plastic bags and braced myself each time the bus swung around potholes and oncoming traffic.
And yet, I had the “best seat” on the bus. With the most potential legroom and fewer bodies to crowd into, the others had taken notice of my contrasting skin color and single status and insisted that I take it.
The bus bounced and swung as the driver avoided potholes and oncoming traffic.
I was returning to my adopted home of Somaliland after a two-week trip through South Africa that took me into Addis Ababa: a wonderful but exhausting journey that did a number on my bank account. Though I had signed a contract for a new job in Qatar, the start date was continually being pushed back. To say that I was counting my last dollar, shilling and birr was an understatement. So to keep expenses low, I was looking forward to a friend’s couch just outside Hargeisa.
My life in Somaliland—internationally recognized as northern Somalia—was relatively vibrant and I had considered it home for the past year. I had a lovely group of friends, and my now former students had kept me entertained with their humor and curiosity.
It had become such a home for me that I had fought several obstacles—jobs, deportation, limited independence and constant threats to foreigners—in order to stay.
I’d come to Somaliland to teach and give, but I had also been given so much in return. From the waiters and guards to the members of Parliament, I had been treated kindly and warmly—protectively even.
This night on the bus was going to be no different.
As we headed for the Somaliland border, the passengers settled into a quiet chatter. Women rearranged their headscarves and calmed their children while jokes were exchanged between everyone. We were all eager to get home. The border posts were closing soon, but I was running on inflated optimism that inshallah I’d be able to get across.
The bus continued to rock back and forth, and a light sprinkle began. As the sun slipped below the horizon, the driver slowed and pulled the bus over.
All the men departed through the side door to prostrate themselves in the fourth prayer of the day, Maghrib.
They returned just as night took over and rain began to pound on us. The interior lights came on and the chatter exploded. Food was produced from the bags and passed around. The month of fasting was over, and it was time to celebrate.
The gentleman beside me insisted on my taking his banana. A woman in the seat ahead of me turned around to offer dates. Here were people, exemplary of their fellow countrymen and women, who had most likely suffered through many more trying situations than me. And yet, no matter the familial relation or individual’s ability to contribute, everyone was encouraged to eat.
I have some, and you have none. Therefore I will share with you. Of all the lessons I took from my year in northern Somalia, this one has left the strongest impression. It was never communicated to me verbally or shoved down my throat; it was simply commonplace almost everywhere I went.
Two years later, I am looking forward to Eid once again. Although I do not practice Islam, I’ve come to appreciate the celebration that concludes a month of reflection and devotion to something other than myself.
I use it as a time to be mindful of the similarities between people of all faiths and the beauty that comes with sharing what I have with others. I have been so very blessed and it has been through no solo act. We all must rely upon others sometimes.
So to everyone out there, most especially those breaking fast this weekend, I wish you a very Eid Mubarak. Thank you for allowing me to partake in it.
Teresa Krug spent a year in Somaliland as a teacher and freelance photographer/writer from 2009-2010; she now works as a journalist in Qatar.